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September 21st, 2009
01:16 PM ET

Cubans pack concert for peace

My trip to Cuba began on my birthday – after snarfing down a Duncan Hines birthday cake made by my four kids (and decorated with redhots), i headed to Miami first, then onto Havana.

It was hot when I arrived at Jose Marti airport – temperatures for the concert were well into the 90's. Hopeful concert-goers were lined up along the roads hoping to hitch a ride or catch a Wah-wah (the local bus) to La Plaza de la Revolution. It's the same spot where Pope John Paul II said mass back in 1998. But this was a concert and the "water station" in the tent for the performers served mojitos, with Havana Club – a rum you cannot buy in the United States, because of the embargo.

Our photographer Orlando arrived with a tent, thankfully, because by midday young women were fainting from heat exhaustion and the crowd estimate had swelled to 600 thousand people. At two o'clock sharp the concert began with Puerto Rican singer Olga Tañon taking the stage, and despite the heat the crowd danced wildly to her music. Cucu Diamantes (crazy diamonds), who is tall and willowy and never broke a sweat, told me she was happy – and that it was very emotional for her. A Cuban-American who left Cuba in in the mid eighties, she hadn't been back to Cuba for 8 years, and even then it was to visit her family.

We wrangled our way onto the stage – the security was tight but it was doable – and had a quick chat with Miguel Bose, who said he was energized by seeing so many Cubans waving flags. He – as all the performers consistently did – underscored the concerts focus: peace. And brushed off any questions of controversy by saying the people, the growing crowd, just wanted to be entertained. We got to run "backstage" (really the upstairs of the national library) to interview Juanes – making our way through the throng of mostly young people who were waiting outside to catch a glimpse of Juanes as he did the mad dash (about 100 yards) to the stage.

Juanes was thrilled with the crowd – by that time estimated (through satellite photos by the Cuban government) to be about 1.2 million people. He sang me some of the lyrics to the duet he did with Bose – "give me an island in the middle of the sea, named liberty." It sounded a little political to me, but he said it was a song Miguel Bose wrote a decade before, when this concert was an impossibility. And he sang happy birthday to me, which was pretty cool too. With Los Van Van on the stage, and more than an hour after the concert was supposed to wrap, the cloud cover cooled things down and the crowd was going crazy.

The final song, with all the performers on the stage to sing "Cuba Cuba Cuba," was a show stopper – it was nearly six hours of pure joy for the people who attended. The crowd dispersed for the slow trek home and we started packing up our gear. Back at the Hotel Nacional, I got to sit in and listen as Juanes played guitar with local musicians – there was lots of drinking and celebrating a successful day. In spite of all the obstacles – some resistance and small protests in Miami, logistical challenges and surely political hoops to jump through – Juanes pulled off his second concert for peace (the first was on the Colombian-Venezuelan border). He was already talking about the next one – in 2010 – on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Filed under: Behind the scenes • Cuba
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Susan

    Cuba needs for the US to lift the embargo,... not a free concert!

    September 22, 2009 at 4:22 pm |
  2. Bill

    It is interesting that musicians are seeking the truth via music..what a concept. The concert shows that Cuba like most countries has a sense of community and wants to have the same kind of freedom of expression as most countries. What was great was the energy of the people and performers..freely making great music and connecting with the fans...1.2 million..sounds like the country has found its voice and needs to continue to express its Gloria?? and others may want to come back home and feel the love....

    September 22, 2009 at 2:22 pm |
  3. Jeff

    Guns should be treated no differently than automobiles. Their are laws on what can be sold and manufactored in this country and they are titled and tracked when sold. Guns should be treated the same. As for people carrying guns at political rallys they are crazy.

    September 22, 2009 at 7:39 am |
  4. JEZEBEL58

    Cubans may have their problems but togethernes is a good thing,if only the Americans would try to do the same for peace instead of demonstrating and showing their racism against their leader.Maybe if the Americans were living in a place like Cuba instead of a free country where they can't think for themselves and there are no restrictions on certain things that we all take for granted there would be solidarity and it would be a good thing for the country.I can't wait either to see this with Soledad.

    September 22, 2009 at 5:51 am |
  5. Hector Martinez

    I can't wait to watch a prime time story or documental about this trip!!!
    It will be just terrific to see from Soledad's perspective how is Cuba and its people today!! I think we all in America get bias views, but this will not be the case with Soledad. Hope to see it soon!!!!

    September 21, 2009 at 7:32 pm |